Classic Cases: Historical Foundations of First-Year Law School Cases

First-year law school students are readily familiar with classic cases that introduce them to essential doctrines of historical and current law. It is a rite of passage for many students to examine the fact pattern in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad (1924), debate the ruling in Hadley v. Baxendale (1854), and review the complex rule against perpetuities in the Duke of Norfolk’s Case (1682). These cases, and many others taken from the pages of casebooks in first-year classes, are also standard-bearers of legal history and the common law tradition. The reasoning and authorities relied on in these cases offer valuable insight into the ways in which lawyers and judges have argued about and decided cases in the past.

This site features summaries of classic cases in five areas of law: constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. Following the summaries are descriptions of selected historical precedents and authorities that helped lawyers to argue and judges to decide the cases. Included with the classic cases and their selected citations are the corresponding case reports and catalog links to the relevant volumes in the Law Library’s collections. [1] The site features, in addition, further bibliography, images, maps and links to more information. A timeline for the classic cases, below and on the menu bar above, furnishes a visual and chronological context. Researchers and students are encouraged to use the site to learn more about the development of the common law tradition.

Of particular note, this site provides access to selected scans from books in the Library’s rich Arthur C. Pulling Rare Books Collection. These highlight the breadth and depth of the historical legal resources found within the Law Library’s Stefan A. Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center